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The Hardest Conversation I’ve Ever Had Was with My 6-Year-Old

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I remember when we told you. You were innocent and shocked; we were petrified and shaken.

Your dad and I rehearsed for days. We even typed out a script. While the memory is slowly turning distant, I can pull it back in if I close my eyes and concentrate. The hours, minutes, seconds, and instant leading up to it — I remember it all now, as if it were yesterday.

You were 4 when I first thought about separating from your dad; 5 by the time I told him. We couldn’t decide when to tell you, veering back and forth because of the holidays. So on the day after Christmas, we decided it was the right time. By then you were 6, and we were both finally ready.

The way we delivered the news was well thought-out because even at your young age, we knew you were exceptionally smart. I won’t go into my version of why we decided to separate our family, because that’s all it would be — my version; and there are many versions. By now you probably have your own version, but whatever it may be, I know it’s filled with respect, partnership, and love — not yelling, slamming doors at pick-up time, or asking who you’d rather live with.

You were playing with the Ninja Turtles you had just gotten for Christmas. It was hard waiting to tell you after the holidays, and harder looking at each other for months knowing that soon, we wouldn’t be a family anymore. At least, not the kind of family we thought we were going to be. We were a forever family; the kind we thought you deserved.

Even though we rehearsed and discussed it at length, I’m not sure the words we practiced matched up with the anxious words that came spilling out. We loved you so much that they got a little lost as we choked back tears.

The life where you wake up on Saturday and wait for Daddy to make the pancakes you love so much — the pancakes Mommy always messes up and we all laugh about — were no longer your reality. The life where right before bedtime, you and your brother jump on our bed while Daddy pretends to be a monster and Mommy saves you. I wish Mommy could have saved you and your daddy and your brother. I wish Mommy could have saved you from herself.

Thank you for being such an amazing and strong little boy who trusted his mom and dad when they told him everything was going to be OK.
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Your daddy is so good, he’d never tell you it was me who brought us to this place where you switch houses twice a week, have two bedrooms, and get asked why you didn’t remember to bring your Kindle or jacket back. You were just a little kid, yet you suddenly felt the weight of this family being broken up every Sunday when you saw sorrow in Daddy’s eyes and remorse in mine.

Every time your little brother acted clingy or followed you around more than usual after the move, you hardly complained. And when you did, I told you it was harder for toddlers to adjust to new places and new routines. But the truth was, your brother was latching onto you as the only thing that felt constant.

You took it better than we did. You put your Ninja Turtle down and you listened. I told you that we would be moving only four minutes down the road to an apartment, a place you would wake up in those first couple of nights and climb into bed with me from uncertainty. I told you that you didn’t have to switch schools like some of the other kids you knew, and that you’d still go to the same parks, the same McDonalds, and the same mall you loved so much. I hyped up your new bedroom and told you how big the closet was and how we could make a fort.

I talked a lot. Daddy talked a little. You didn’t talk at all, and we didn’t make you.

In the coming weeks, you asked a few times when I was moving and when you would get to see your new room; you almost seemed excited about it. Thank you.

Thank you for being such an amazing and strong little boy who trusted his mom and dad when they told him everything was going to be OK. Thank you for believing us when we told you we couldn’t stay together and be our best selves. Thank you for trusting that even though we didn’t live together, we would always love you no matter what.

I often wonder — when you’re trying to talk sense into your stubborn 3-year-old brother, or when you slow down while playing with him, but you really want to go fast with the other kids — did I take something away from you? Did I rob you of the carefree childhood you deserved? I didn’t make you do these things; you were just always that amazing. I often wondered what I did to deserve you.

We gave you two homes each filled with more love than our one home together could.
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I know you like being with both of us, all together as a family. I know when you’re with Daddy, you feel like the only thing missing is me. Or when you’re with me, the only thing missing is him.

But you’ve adjusted so well. In fact, just the other day you asked me where I lived before this place. The fact that you forgot for a split second that we all used to live together broke my heart and filled in a few cracks at the same time. I don’t know whether to be relieved or heartbroken that you might one day truly forget what it was like when we were a family.

This isn’t being written to convince you that I love you, even if I did what most mothers consider unthinkable: break up my family. I’m writing so you can see me for me in that moment — as your mother and as a woman.

It’s so that if you ever find yourself in my place when you’re all grown up with your own family, you won’t feel so alone. You won’t feel ashamed. There is nothing to be ashamed about.

We made the right choice and I believe with my whole heart that you are a happier version of an 8-year-old boy than you would have been had we stayed together for you. Of course, I know that not every situation is like ours, where the mom and dad co-parent 100 percent. Where they put their kids ahead of their own feelings about each other. I know it’s probably even rare.

But we did the right thing and feel proud of how we handled it, because it had to be done. We gave you two homes each filled with more love than our one home together could.

And we know that one day, you’ll look back and realize you were one of the lucky ones to come out of a “broken” home. Hopefully, you’ll be the kind of man who feels just as fortunate to have had us, as we’ve always felt to have you.

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